Washington Redskins Pre-Combine 7-Round Mock Draft
Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan doesn't need to change tack too much regarding the 2017 draft as the annual NFL Scouting Combine is underway. Unless McCloughan is strongly wowed by a prospect in Indianapolis, his priorities shouldn't alter.
Those priorities include identifying linemen able to fortify a feeble defensive front. Adding a physical middle linebacker behind the new trench warriors would also make sense, as would finding a safety with range for the back end.
On offense, wide receiver, running back and center are the obvious holes to fill. Free agency dictates another wideout may be needed, with Washington's two star pass-catchers set to hit the open market.
Meanwhile, none of the incumbent running backs have convinced anybody they can carry the load and provide balance to the passing attack. In fairness, the running game would surely improve if there was a mean purveyor of pancake-blocking in the middle of the offensive line.
Fortunately for McCloughan and the Redskins, this combine is fit to burst with prospects able to help at these positions. With this glut of talent in mind, here is a mock draft for how the Burgundy and Gold can best use their 10 picks, based on what McCloughan may see out in Indy.
Round 1: Budda Baker, S, Washington
In a slight change from previous projections, the Redskins stop wasting time and finally make safety a priority in the draft. After too many years with stop-gap solutions along the last line of defense, McCloughan lands this franchise a natural playmaking free safety in Budda Baker with the 17th overall pick.
A compact and wiry safety, Baker would bring smooth coverage skills and rough and tumble attacking instincts to Redskins Park. It's a potent combination, one making the former Huskies ace the model of a modern, pro-ready safety.
An astute comparison is made by Lance Zierlein of the league's official site, who likened Baker to former Indianapolis Colts agent of destruction, Bob Sanders. Perhaps more appealing than the similarities with the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year are the thoughts of one unnamed NFC area scout, who is quoted by Zierlein waxing lyrical about Baker's coverage chops: "I would leave him as a center fielder and then roll him down over the slot if you needed to. He's too small to cover tight ends, but he's got great instincts in coverage, which is why he should shine as a single-high."
Such flexibility in space would lend greater license to new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to be creative with his coverage looks, both in base and sub-package situations. In Baker, Manusky would get a budding quarterback for the secondary who would never be off the field.
Pairing a day one starter like Baker with second-year man Su'a Cravens could give Washington its long overdue dynamic safety pairing for the next decade.
Round 2: Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan
Washington's defensive line needs help in the worst way—specifically the type of help Chris Wormley would provide as an astute second-round selection with the 49th overall pick. A true lunch-pail type, Wormley has made his reputation quietly going about the unfashionable yet necessary work every defense relies on to win the battles in the trenches.
Wormley's work is defined by his prowess as a run defender. He sets a hard edge as a lineman who's tough to move with just one blocker. The ex-Wolverines standout also has the raw power, long arms and natural leverage to create a push and take away inside gaps.
Those are the attributes every 3-4 team wants up front. They are also the qualities the Redskins have lacked for too long while a succession of veteran retreads and disappointing rookies have struggled.
Since 2015, when McCloughan became GM, Stephen Paea proved to be a free-agent bust, while 2016 draftee Matt Ioannidis flopped. Meanwhile, none of Ricky Jean Francois, Cullen Jenkins or Ziggy Hood have been able to keep linebackers free and occupy double-teams.
The latter pair are free agents, along with Chris Baker and Kedric Golston, making adding new D-linemen not just a matter of improving talent, but also of boosting numbers.
It's a good thing natural 5-technique Wormley has already been endearing himself to pro teams, according to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com: "He shone in the team interviews as team sources raved about his character and intangibles."
Wormley won't wow many onlookers with his gaudy statistics, but he would be a favorite among teammates who appreciate the value of players doing the dirty work.
Round 3: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Wide Receiver, Southern California
Unless McCloughan works some magic at the negotiating table, there's a good chance at least one of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon won't be back for the 2017 season. Chances are still decent neither veteran wideout will be with the Redskins.
Safeguarding the position was what McCloughan had in mind when he drafted Josh Doctson in the first round in 2016. He can supplement his original idea nicely by adding JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third round this year.
The Long Beach, California, native would offer terrific value at this stage, as a big-bodied target (6'2", 220 lbs) combining possession-style skills with an underrated vertical threat. Smith-Schuster showcased both sides of his game during a productive final year at USC, when he reeled in 70 catches for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns.
If there's one obvious drawback to Smith-Schuster's game, it's an absence of genuine, field-stretching speed, according to Bucky Brooks of the league's official site: "Smith-Schuster's lack of speed and explosiveness could be a problem at the next level. Although he has shown that he can win on sheer toughness and physicality, he'll have a tough time winning the majority of his battles without a speed advantage over his opponent."
It's a deficiency notable enough to perhaps leave Smith-Schuster on the board until Round 3, particularly if he doesn't impress during speed drills at the combine. However, he is still a wideout with a vast catching radius and the strength to thwart press coverage in the big league.
Round 4: Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU
As much as some new playmakers up front would help fix a dire run defense, so would plugging in a true thumper at inside linebacker. The latter description could be Kendell Beckwith's byline.
Few "Mike" 'backers in this draft class possess the burly frame that the 6'2", 252-pounder can bring on Sundays. The player, who was an intimidating force at LSU, is a naturally nasty hitter between the tackles.
At his most menacing and magnificent when he's allowed to play downhill, Beckwith is an enforcer who sets the tone for a defense by declaring the inside a no-go area for running backs.
Such a presence has been conspicuous by its absence at the heart of the Redskins' front seven in recent seasons. It's one reason why Washington allowed opposing runners to gain 4.5 yards per attempt in 2016, along with surrendering 19 rushing touchdowns.
Incumbent Will Compton is a willing hitter, but he misses too many tackles because a lack of dynamic athleticism holds him back. By contrast, fellow inside linebacker Mason Foster has the quickness to regularly get to the ball but isn't physical enough to dole out sufficient punishment when he does.
Beckwith, who tackles for keeps and times blitzing superbly, has the attributes to be the downhill game-wrecker Washington's base 3-4 needs.
Round 4: Davis Webb, QB, California
Washington's decision to attach a second franchise tag to Kirk Cousins means the team's quarterback situation is only temporarily settled. The Redskins gave Pro Bowler Cousins the exclusive franchise tag on Tuesday, according to Jake Kring-Schreifels of the team's official site, a move the latter aptly described as "essentially a one-year, fully guaranteed deal."
Given the fluid, to put it politely, nature of Washington's attempts to keep Cousins in town for the long haul, it would make sense for McCloughan to start searching for the team's QB of the future. Fortunately, California's Davis Webb would offer awesome value in the middle rounds.
Webb's best attribute may be his style in the sense he's a classic, dropback passer of the variety Washington head coach Jay Gruden loves. In particular, Gruden would quickly become enthralled by Webb's flair for gunning laser strikes between the numbers. He's a decisive passer who can make the necessary pro throws.
Some buzz is even building around Webb already. Earlier this month, an unnamed team executive told NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah that he believes Webb "will end up being the best quarterback of this draft class."
However, Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com feels Webb doesn't boast some of the more laudable physical qualities of the passer he succeeded at Cal, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff: "But I'd also say that Webb was erratic and probably lacked some of the qualities (footwork, reading defenses, and decision-making) that made Goff so dominant in college."
Wagner-McGough also noted how Webb's numbers aren't first-round worthy: "So no, Webb did not outperform Goff in the same offensive system, which is why he isn't regarded as a first-round pick."
Yet for all the question marks, Webb does possess the core makings of a pro-style passer who would quickly transition to the high-percentage air attack Gruden calls for. His quick development would also be excellent insurance against any more issues regarding Cousins' future.
The Redskins have until June 15 to agree a long-term deal with No. 8, per Kring-Schreifels, while Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio says the franchise would have to receive a mind-boggling trade package to consider dealing Cousins.
However, both the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns are known to be keen on Cousins, according to B/R's Jason Cole. Their interest makes drafting a quarterback the smart play for McCloughan this year.
Round 5: J.J. Dielman, C, Utah
Center was a position of need before Kory Lichtensteiger retired and regardless of whether free agent John Sullivan returns. Using a fifth-round pick on a pivot man as capable as Utah's J.J. Dielman would help solve the problem, provided the player impresses at the combine.
To be clear, Dielman must use his time in Indianapolis to show NFL onlookers he's put his injury history behind him. A leg injury cost Dielman his 2016 season with the Utes, so he must prove his agility and mobility haven't been unduly hindered ahead of the draft.
If not, then McCloughan and the Redskins should keep this potential sleeper pick firmly in mind. Dielman is a leather-tough force in the running game, one who would help improve an anemic Washington ground attack that was ranked 21st in 2016.
Round 6: De'Veon Smith, RB, Michigan
Toughness isn't just something the Redskins' rushing attack needs more of at the blocking level. The team could also use more of it from the men tasked with lugging the rock.
It's why De'Veon Smith would be a potential steal for Washington in the sixth round. For the meager cost of their first of two picks in this round, the Redskins would be getting a durable grinder who protects the football and knows how to work the inside running lanes.
Smith played his way to the Senior Bowl in January after wowing onlookers at the East-West Shrine Game, according to Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated. It's just one more positive note from a solid approach to the predraft process so far.
What should impress the Redskins the most, though, is Smith's naturally physical style of running. He never shies away from contact, nor does he succumb to the first hit. Instead, the 5'11", 220-pounder usually finishes runs with some brute force.
He has the makings of the clock-controlling, chain-moving workhorse Washington lost when Alfred Morris left as a free agent in 2015. Look at Smith and think Matt Jones, but with ball security.
Round 6: Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
To be honest, the idea of Marlon Mack still being on the board in the sixth round may be the stuff of dreams. But if this South Florida speedster is still available, then McCloughan should take all of three seconds before calling his name.
It usually doesn't take Mack as long as three seconds to burn a defense with his eye-popping speed, though. As Sports Illustrated noted, Mack "has the speed to blow up the combine and South Florida's pro day."
Frankly, Washington officials had better hope Mack doesn't impress too many during his time in Indianapolis. The Redskins need him to still be something of a hidden gem heading into the draft.
If he is, Mack can be the back who adds the legitimate breakaway threat that the capable yet unspectacular Chris Thompson has always promised but rarely delivered. Thompson is a restricted free agent this offseason, and while his versatility as a receiver and change-of-pace runner is valuable on third down, this still feels like a position Washington can upgrade.
Mack has everything he needs to be an upgrade.
Round 7: Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, NT, Southern California
Finding the right nose tackle remains a priority for the Redskins, but there are enough quality options in free agency for the team to address the problem long before the draft.
Veterans such as Dontari Poe, Johnathan Hankins, Terrell McClain and Alan Branch all make sense as 0-techniques Washington should target when free agency opens on March 9. Yet on the chance McCloughan for some reason opts to ignore this gaping hole again, a late-round draft flier on USC giant Stevie Tu'ikolovatu would be more than worth it.
The player suitably dubbed Big Stevie may be an old rookie, but the 25-year-old has what Washington's 3-4 defensive front needs in the middle. Namely he offers the size, at 6'1" and 350 pounds, to draw and hold double-teams over the ball and leave inside linebackers untouched and free to chase the ball down.
It's also easy to love the comparison NFL.com's Lance Zierlein made between Tu'ikolovatu and Baltimore Ravens' man mountain in the middle, Brandon Williams. The latter is a formidable dominator who guarantees a stingy run defense.
If Tu'ikolovatu became even half of what Williams is, he would represent one of the better draft steals in Washington's recent history.
Round 7: Xavier Woods, S, Louisiana Tech
Frankly, if McCloughan used six draft picks on safeties this year, it wouldn't be overkill. Such is the extent of Washington's problems at the position in recent years.
Those problems would make adding Xavier Woods perfect sense for the Redskins after tabbing Baker. Taking a late-round gamble on the former Louisiana Tech standout would reward Washington with a versatile safety who combines hard hitting with smarts in coverage.
Woods is akin to a natural Cover 2 safety, meaning he's at his best whenever he keeps the game in front of him. Sit him in a zone shell and he won't be found wanting in either run support or pass coverage. Just don't ask Woods to lock up receivers in the slot or handle single-high responsibilities.
Yet for all his limitations, Woods is productive, having made 89 combined tackles, broken up six passes and recorded three sacks during his final collegiate season.
Woods has the temperament to make the final roster in Washington and add quality depth behind Cravens, as well as contribute early on special teams.